Into the Future: Sustainable Access to the National Review of Live Art Digital Archive

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: School of Arts


By making the resource available to remote users online, the project aims to enhance the sustainability and interoperability and profoundly extend the accessibility of the National Review of Live Art Video Archive, which has been digitised through AHRC Resource Enhancement funding. The digitisation of this internationally recognised, leading festival of contemporary live art and performance will be brought up to date and completed with the final festival (March 2010), such that the dataset will be complete and definitive. Selected works will be used in collaboration with the artists to model how their works should be preserved for the future via the Performing Arts Documentation System (PADS), thus developing the depth and detail of metadata available to users around specific documents and modelling approaches of use to other online archives, artists and curators. Applying the Semantic Tools for Arts Research System (STARS) will enable public participation in the production of user-generated metadata, interactivity and the curation of performance documents across the whole range of the Theatre Collection, as well as provide transferable models for other archives. A bespoke virtual research environment will be produced, within which this data will be used and re-used. Rethinking ways of delivering and processing the archived information using these web technologies will generate new forms of understanding, both of the documents and records themselves, but also of the methodologies for online use of other kinds of archival materials, creating the potential for considerable future research, not only in performance documentation and performance history, but other fields also. This will be achieved through an interdisciplinary team comprising leading specialists in their fields: academic, professional and technical.

Planned Impact

This project's impact will be wide-ranging across several distinct fields, users and audiences, with interfaces accessible and engaging for a range of professional and non-professional users:
1. Professional practitioners: national and international performance-makers will access this renowned archive as a rich resource of inspiration. International curators will access the collection to learn more about UK live art and select artists for work abroad. In this way, the archive will advocate and promote the export of contemporary British performance (evidenced by NRLA artists at 'Live Brits' at Hebbel Am Ufer, Berlin; in S.P.A.C.E. UK, British Council Showcase, El Teatro de la Laboral, Spain; NRLA/Nikki Milican-curated programme of UK work by women at European Performance Art Festival (EPAF), Warsaw, Poland; NRLA tour of Australia. Such tours and programmes of live work will be promoted by the online archive and will themselves develop overseas audiences for the online resource. The resource will be highly valuable for facilitating conversation between this network of European programmers and the artists they work with. With Milican as Visiting Professor in the Department, close collaboration with NRLA/New Moves International means that the project will be well integrated with the professional scene/cultural industries. The case-studies of rich PADS scores will conserve the complete range of media related to a particular work and also record artists' intentions in order to facilitate future re-enactments of works, addressing the legacy of live art, an ephemeral form, for future generations.
2. Museums, archivists and conservation projects, the museum sector: the project will develop interoperable software tools applicable to other collections, IPR and Access Models for heritage collections. Digitisation models, methodologies and policies for digital storage/growing repositories will be applicable across the institution and inter-institutionally. Open Archive and Open Source principles will enable cross-collection searches of metadata via Google. Close relationships have already been established (through the JISC-funded events etc.) with John Latham Archive, Siobhan Davies Archive, A Database, Frankin Furnace Archive Inc., New York, Arnolfini Archive, Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona, FACT, Netherlands Media Art Institute, etc. Knowledge-exchange and interest in applying PADS has been received from 'Inside Movement Knowledge' and 'Inside Installations' at Netherlands Media Art Institute, MOMA, Franklin Furnace and Forging the Future Consortium in the US. Models developed will impact significantly on best practice and policy through JISC Digital Media. This growing knowledge and expertise from the Resource Enhancement award through to this project will be captured and shared with the wider Theatre and Archives membership, through the website, publication and promotion through professional mailing lists such as TIG/Live Art List as a means of disseminating good practice and lessons learnt.
3. Audiences and the general public nationally and internationally with an interest in live art and performance: by making the NRLA Archive accessible and publicising appropriately, opportunities will be opened up for the public to view footage and works that they will not have had the chance to see before or had previously not been able to access, thus fully exploiting the value of this UK cultural asset, offering unique insights into 30 years of live art and experimental performance history. In addition the STARS tool will satisfy public demand for participation in and interaction with the archive, enabling user-generated metadata to be created, performance memories, commentaries and links to be input and personal selections to be curated and exchanged. This engagement with the online aspect of the Live Art Archives will encourage public us


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Description Into The Future [ITF] has met its key objectives: to make the National Review of Live Art [NRLA] video archive available in an online version; to complete the digital preservation of the archive of the festival's final years (2007-10), started by the previous project - Capturing the Past, Preserving the Future [CPPF]; to ensure the whole archive's long-term preservation as part of the Live Art Archives [LAA] of the University of Bristol's Theatre Collection [TC] through a partnership with the University's Advanced Computing Research Centre and High Performance Computing [HPC]; and to develop approaches to online use of archives through three case-studies.

The NRLA video archive consists of a total of 1811 video files of varying lengths, existing in four formats, ranging from U-Matic to Mini DV tape. They were digitally captured and held for archival purposes as raw .avi files, which were then converted to MPEG-2 files as a working format for trans-coding into DVDs for the TC archive and copies for artists, and then .flv files for the site. Each file has a unique metadata profile, which was an implementation of the Performance Arts Data Structure [PADS]. ITF created 6.5TB of uncompressed digitised material from the 2007-10 archive as the raw dataset, stored and preserved on the HPC facility; and transferred to HPC the 37TB created by the previous project from the 1986-2006 archive, resulting in a 43.5TB dataset. A further 587 DVDs from 2007-10 were also created and copies sent to artists. As regards Intellectual Property Rights, every effort was made to contact the 584 artists, whose work is documented in the archive, to seek permission for both digitisation and online delivery of their work. Where permission in writing was not received, demonstration of due diligence has allowed material to be digitised; however, the TC Management Committee set a higher threshold for work to be made available online. DVD access copies are available for all material not made available online. Furthermore, extensive consultation regarding the ethical issues surrounding making available archives of performances containing challenging material was undertaken with all stakeholders, including the Arts Faculty Ethics Committee, the University's Director of IT Services, Director of Legal Services, Director of Public Relations, the Universities' regulator of IT JANET, IT Security Officer and Research Governance Officer. This resulted in requiring users to register and be aged over 18 years; and in some material not being made available online.

The ITF website combines a number of technical challenges: data modelling, video streaming, large-scale data storage, video annotations, relational-data visualisations, bookmarking, collaboration, user-contributed material, searching and case-studies. These were all integrated together into a single cohesive site using the flexibility of the open-source Drupal Content Management System ( Several additional user-contributed modules were installed to handle the complex modelling requirements and provide OAI-PMH compliance. The open-source Red5 streaming server ( provides the video-streaming functionality on a scale normally only associated with commercial providers. The project also developed custom modules to integrate research efforts from the earlier JISC-funded Semantic Tools for Arts Research [STARS] and Visualizing China projects, thus enhancing the STARS approach to user-generated functionality and graphic visualisation of data, pioneered by the Institute for Learning and Research Technology since 2004. The site invites users to annotate and tag video via its innovative player/editor interface; to add new resources to the database via third-party sites; to create new links between existing data; and to generate and share data-visualisation maps. The development process for these functions is documented in the STARS case-study on the website.

The case-study on Augusto Corrieri's Quartet (for Anna Akhmatova) tested the full potential of PADS, which is a metadata schema developed specifically for performance structuring information about resources. It was used as a fine-grained system to closely describe the parts from which this work was composed, drawing on artist interviews and commentaries to enhance the video documentation, providing rich information for researchers about the text, movement, clothing, music and objects, along with recording the artist's intentions. As part of the case-study, Quartet was re-staged and documented immediately by its spectators from multiple perspectives, using a range of media. A selection of audience-generated documentation and the resultant findings are available online, along with programme notes and publicity. PADS was initially developed by CPPF through a case-study around Richard Layzell's 1996 NRLA performance, I Never Done Enough Weird Stuff, which has been migrated to the ITF site to make the data more readily accessible.

The third case-study took a digital resource from the archives, Bodies in Flight's CD-ROM archive - Flesh & Text, the accessibility of which had become severely compromised by software redundancy, and developed an online emulation of its functionality, as well as interviewing the artists and IT designer involved in its construction in 2001, raising issues around using digital technologies to organize the archival materials resulting from performance.
Exploitation Route Through both the increased accessibility of the archive footage and the logistics and challenges of the project processes, ITF has significantly raised the profile of the NRLA Archive and other LAA collections across a variety of sectors. As of 20th December 2012, there were 253 registered users of the site, of whom 133 described themselves from non-academic contexts: 7 colleges, 20 arts organizations, 8, museums/ galleries/ libraries, 79 freelance artists, and 19 without affiliation. Artists and practitioners have been positive and supportive throughout the project, which has resulted in the deposit of new archives and material into the TC. The archive's accessibility has encouraged artists, researchers, students and the general public nationally and internationally with an interest in live art and performance to engage with the material and enquire further about the archives and the TC's holdings. The archives, museums and conservation sector have followed the progress of the project with interest and it has generated a number of requests for advice and support for other digitisation projects.

The Open Source software underpinning this online archive is already used in many commercial settings. However, video-based repositories are some of the most technically challenging websites. ITF has primarily been modelling the PADS data structures, using various Drupal modules to provide access to this data, as well as combining the STARS, Red5 and Drupal technologies into a single cohesive application. This solution could easily be adapted for use in many other types of online repositories. The PADS structure is also expressive enough to model many different types of artistic, cultural and historic material, so the approach used by the ITF site has wide applicability to libraries, museums and other cultural institutions.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education

Description Two strands of research were developed within the project, focusing on conservation, accessibility and the creative use of culturally significant and unique archives of live art and performance. These have impacted on professional artists, curators and producers working in live art and contemporary performance, on archivists and conservators and on the general public. Through a range of events, workshops, exhibitions and performances held between 2008 and 2013, partner arts organizations have also benefited, including Arnolfini, Bristol Old Vic Theatre (BOVT), In Between Time Productions (IBT) and the National Review of Live Art (NRLA). The influence of the research has been felt regionally, nationally and internationally. The protocols developed in the research for handling challenging material, defined as containing religious, sexual or violent material, in an accessible online platform, were used and further developed in "Challenging Archives: The Franko B Archive - a case-study to develop new methodologies for enhancing access to, engagements with and curatorial care of body-based art and archives", led by Jo Elsworth at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection (September 2015- September 2016), funded by the Wellcome Trust.
First Year Of Impact 2008
Sector Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

Title Dataset of digitised materials from the National Review of Live Art video archive 
Description Materials were digitally captured and converted to MPEG-2 files and .flv files. Each file has a unique metadata profile, which was an implementation of the Performance Arts Data Structure [PADS]. ITF created 6.5TB of uncompressed digitised material from the 2007-10 archive as the raw dataset, stored and preserved on the HPC facility; and transferred to HPC the 37TB created by the previous project from the 1986-2006 archive, resulting in a 43.5TB dataset. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Curating Artistic Research Output (CAiRO) delivered data-management skills tailored to the requirements of arts professionals in a four-day summer school (2011), attended by 23 professional artists, curators and practitioner-researchers, and in an online postgraduate teaching resource, with 1,280 visits and 68 module downloads by July 2013, thus introducing many professional artists to the value and uses of online archiving. The curatorial workshop, Conserving and Archiving Ephemeral Artworks (2008), involved 24 invited participants from significant cultural institutions, e.g. Bristol Museum, FACT, the V&A. Digital Documentation and Performance (2009) comprised three days of workshops/seminars for 37 researchers, artists, curators, archivists and collection managers. The events shared findings and exchanged best practice for archiving and digitizing, with attendees stating: 'On a practical level, Bristol's approach to the digitization of analogue videotapes fed into the Library's then-nascent policy in this area.' (Lead curator, British Library, Drama and Literature Recordings). For Professor Sarah Whatley (Siobhan Davies Archive), Clarke and Gray's input was 'valuable in our early stages [] in the area of digitization formats, curatorial processes [] taxonomies for performance/ephemeral content, data storage methods, metadata [and] user-generated content.'